County Gaol

The main prison for people from Eastern Essex who were sentenced to imprisonment for serious offences was at Chelmsford.

The first County Gaol at Chelmsford was built about 1700.

Until that time Colchester Castle was often used for detention.

Life in prison was very difficult with prisoners often ill due to the cramped shared cells with poor ventilation and inadequate sewage.

In 1828 a new prison was built in Springfield Road which would provide better accommodation for prisoners.

Male and Females were held in the prison.

A house of correction was also built at Chelmsford to house debtors and minor offenders who were considered suitable for education to correct their ways.

This prison is still in use today albeit with many alterations.


The new Gaol was considered suitable to carry out executions and included a death cell on top of which the scaffold was placed so that the execution could be witnessed by the public outside the prison.

Once the prisoner was executed his body was allowed to hang in public view for an hour before it was cut down and given to Doctors for dissection.

In 1831 William Jennings was found guilty of charges of Burglary at the house of Richard Gardiner at Althorne and setting fire to a bran at Writtle.

The trial took place at the time of agricultural unrest which no doubt encouraged the Judge to Sentence Jennings to death by hanging.

He was executed at Chelmsford Prison in front of 150 bystanders.

Another local man to be hung at Chelmsford was Edward Smith from Southminster who was executed in 1785 for assault and robbery.

Local Lockups

Several villages in Eastern Essex had small local lockups that were used by Parish Constables and Magistrates to detain prisoners for short periods.

This use was sometimes to allow drunks to sober up although often it was used for short term detention while arrangements could be made to take the prisoner to  Chelmsford Jail or the Essex Assize sessions.

The Parish Constable would then be required to escort the prisoner on foot to Chelmsford which could be a difficult task.

Although most of the lockups have now been demolished we are fortunate in having the Bradwell lock up preserved in good condition.

Bradwell lock upBradwell lock up

Police Cells

When Essex Police were formed in 1840, new Police Stations with cells were established which made the village lock ups redundant.

Prisoners were placed in the cells after arrest until they appeared at court or when they were sentenced at court before they could be transported to the County Gaol.

cell door Cell door at the Old Police Station , Latchingdon